Fine for landlord after fire breach

AFTER a blaze broke out in a Scarborough block of flats it was discovered that fire regulations had been breached, a court was told.

Fire and smoke alarms in the communal areas of the flats in New Queen Street were not connected to an electrical supply, some of the alarms in the four flats were not operational and rules governing signage and instructions to tenants had not been complied with.

Before the court for sentencing was landlord Ewan Alexander McFerren, 50, who had previously admitted five charges of breaching the fire regulations.

York Crown Court heard that the blaze started, probably due to someone smoking in or near a bed, in the ground floor flat of the converted house on May 25 last year.

Because of the lack of working alarms many of the residents only realised they were in danger when people started shouting up at them from the road outside.

Catherine Duffy, prosecuting on behalf of North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, told the court that despite being issued with an Improvement Notice in early 2008 to put the necessary systems in place, McFerren, who owns an electrical company, had not completed the work by the time the blaze started.

The court heard that flammable items were also stored in cupboards in the communal areas in the block, against regulations.

The lack of working alarms was discovered by an engineer who examined the property after the blaze with a fire safety officer.

Miss Duffy said that, despite the dangers, every occupant of the flats had escaped unhurt.

Ruth Cranidge, mitigating, said McFerren, of Manor Road, had tried to comply with the Improvement Notice issued by Scarborough Council, but had met with difficulties as a result of tenants not allowing him in to do the work.

Miss Cranidge said that the basement flat had been occupied by alleged drug users and dealers and they had obstructed the work to link all the alarms together and to the electrical supply.

She added that since the blaze McFerren, who owns four other similar properties in the Scarborough area, had carried out improvement and refurbishment works at the New Queen Street block at a cost of £20,000.

He is also currently spending a similar amount on his other properties, including on fire escape work.

Miss Cranidge said that McFerren was paying for all the work, together with the mortgages on the properties and his own home, out of his £41,000 income from his property business, his electric company at present making a loss.

Fining McFerren £5,500 - the maximum being an unlimited fine and/or two years imprisonment - Recorder David Hatton QC said that it was “fortuitous” that no harm was caused to anyone.

Adding that he understood and accepted that the breaches of the regulations had not occurred as part of an extra money making scheme by McFerren, the recorder said that there had been ways around the problems he had faced in getting the safety work completed before the blaze.

McFerren was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £2,325.84 and a victim surcharge of £15.